Cannabis activists are decrying a very large donation to stop legalization in Arizona — made by the drug company Insys. Insys sells a potential cannabis competitor called “fentanyl”, a super-powerful pain drug responsible for scores of deaths this year, including the singer Prince.
Insys Therapeutics donated $500,000 towards the effort to defeat Arizona’s recreational ballot measure, state records show, by far the biggest single cash infusion to the prohibition effort in Arizona.
Fentanyl is a synthetic drug that’s much more powerful than heroin. Two former Insys employees are being charged in a kickback scheme meant to get doctors to prescribe Fentanyl-based Subsys, US News reports.
While fatal overdoses can be avoided using reversal drugs like Narcan, Fentanyl has proven particularly dangerous and has been blamed for overdose deaths. Music icon Prince died of a fentanyl overdose days just after a different opioid overdose.
Prescription opiates are ravaging the nation. About 14,000 people were killed in 2014 by overdoses from prescription pain pills like Oxycontin and Vicodin, according the Centers for Disease Control.
One identified solution to America’s current opiate epidemic is medical cannabis. Where marijuana is available, use of prescription pain pills plummets by as much as 64 percent, according to a study published in the Journal of Pain.
That’s bad news for pharmaceutical companies, who have caught on, critics contend.
Insys is also in trouble after the company “hawked the [Fentanyl-based] drug to doctors for off-label prescribing” in the pursuit of “increased profits,” according to lawsuit filed against the company by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan.
Overprescribing has long been blamed for the country’s problem with prescription pills, which in turn has led to a sharp resurgence in the use of heroin. Prescriptions of pharmaceutical opiates quadrupled since 1999, according to the CDC.
Insys is based in Arizona, and a campaign spokesman with anti-legalization Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy said they would not be returning the donation.
In a real twist, Insys has also tried to peddle cannabis — though the synthetic kind. Prior to getting into the Fentanyl game, Insys tried to market a liquid generic version of Marinol, the synthetic THC pill.
The Insys donation will go toward persuading swing voters in the close election, though it also promises to harden support for Proposition 205 in Arizona — a state where it’s now possible vote against the kind of people who killed Prince.